In the early days of Toronto FC, the club struggled with an image problem. After the 2007 season when it became clear that the club, while dreadful on the pitch, was a success in the stands at BMO Field, with twenty-thousand supporters singing in full voice throughout each home match, certain media types made the kind of careless connection that certain media types sometimes make.
It went like this: The soccer fans in the stands at BMO were boisterous, much in the same way that fans in European stadiums were boisterous. There have been incidents of violent hooliganism in parts of Europe, ergo, Toronto was at risk of being overtaken by the soccer mob, as if the sport was some sort of disease.
Sometimes the connection was implied, particularly in 2009 when a TFC fan was tasered in Columbus and a well-known Toronto tabloid took the bait and ran with it, implying TFC fans were unruly. Sometimes it was explicit, as in Leah McLaren’s article on soccer “hooliganism”—which comprised some young men singing in public and a broken glass bar fight—for the Globe and Mail back in 2008.
Today, most papers are more concerned with TFC’s form on the pitch than the threat of the city going into an Inner City Firm meltdown. Perhaps this has been helped along by the growing realization that hockey, Canada’s sport, is also not completely immune from the vices that have gripped certain quarters in European soccer.
First, there was the Vancouver Stanley Cup riot this past June, which shocked the entire country. And, appallingly, yesterday a fan threw a banana at Philadelphia Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds, who is black.
It cannot be stressed enough—this likely involved a single fan out of thousands, so should not be used as means for blanket condemnation of hockey fans or the sport in general (Andrew Thomas wrote a good piece on this a month back). But it isn’t unprecedented in hockey, a league that features several prominent African Canadian players. The incident is a reminder that while hockey is miles away from the kind of crowd racism or hooligan violence we sometimes see in parts of Europe, no sport is immune from the ugliness of the mob or the bigotry of individual fans.